Coventry City Supporters Consultative Group with guest speaker Joy Seppala - Wednesday, February 24th

Fri 04 Mar 2016
Author: SCG

Please read the latest meeting minutes from the SCG with special guest speaker Joy Seppala present...

Supporters’ Consultative Group Meeting
Wednesday 24 February 2016, 6.30 p.m.
Butts Park Arena
M I N U T E S

Present: 

Pat Abel (PA), Steve Barnett (SBA), Jim Brown (JB), Steve Brown (SBR), David Busst (DB), Declan Connolly (DC), Kieran Crowley (KC), Darren Davies (DD), Michael Garlick (MG), Sandra Garlick (SG), Kevin Heffernan (KH), Colin Henderson (CH), Mark Hornby (MH), CJ Joiner (CJ), Chris McGrath (CM), Pat Raybould (PR), Tynan Scope (TS), Joy Seppala (JSE) – for final item only, Ray Stephens (RS), Jonathan Strange, Chairman (JS), Robert Tidmarsh (RT), Jodie Turner (JT), Peter Ward (PW)
 
Apologies for Absence

Apologies were received from Jan Mokrzycki and Mark Sorbie 

Introduction

Jonathan Strange welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for coming. He paid tribute to Chris McGrath. JS welcomed Jodie Turner to the group who will be taking minutes initially on a provisional basis.

Matters Arising

Circulated previously via email, the meeting accepted as a true and fair record.

One suggested amendment by JS was the following on the election of vice-chairman:

If there are more than two candidates and the votes cast for the most successful candidate do not represent an overall majority of eligible voters, the candidate with the least number of votes will withdraw. There will then be a further round or rounds of voting. The chairman will retain a casting vote.

Ian Davidson’s issues log will be retained in a modified form and updated monthly. Would any member who has any issues with the match-day experience please continue to email JS direct. 

JS thanked SBR and the Sky Blue Trust for ongoing research into improving transport links with the Ricoh for City supporters. 

The CCFC representatives will follow up ongoing issues raised in the previous meeting around car parking and corporate service. There will be a detailed discussion around car parking at the next meeting. It was confirmed that car park season tickets have been available since the club returned to the Ricoh.

Kev Monks has resigned from the group. SBR expressed sadness and disappointment at his departure as he felt Kev gave the group more credibility due to the fact he has access to a lot of media, is well known and respected and is heavily involved supporting football at all levels (first team, U21s, U18s, Cov Ladies etc). He felt that it may not have been acknowledged what a valid member he was. A resolution proposed by KH and seconded by CJ, that thanks from the group be passed on to Kev and a plea made to him to reconsider his decision to resign, was adopted.

Chairman's Report

There were two very strong candidates for the position of vice-chairman – SBR and SG.  Many congratulations to SG who was the successful candidate.

JS has been in talks with Tim Fisher regarding SCG members attending a forthcoming board meeting. It has been several months since the SCG participated. Could members please suggest issues/questions to contribute to the agenda – this will be discussed at next month’s meeting.  

The CCFC website is being updated – there is a section about the members of the group (http://www.ccfc.co.uk/news/article/supporters-consultative-group-bios-coventry-city-260614-1690227.aspx) – this hasn’t been updated for some time and we need around fifty words from new members since the last update (DC, MG, DH, CH, CJ, RT, JT) – could these please be emailed to JS.
 
Any Other Business

JB advised that on Legends Day there was speculation around Wasps being approached to name the North Stand after Jimmy Hill. It was confirmed that, following discussions, a conference suite has been named in his honour but that there was no intention to name a stand after him. CJ had proposed getting local businesses, the club and fans together to raise money in order to put a proposal together to Wasps, but it looks like this is financially unfeasible.

JB thanked KC for organising the team photograph on Legends Day which had gone down really well. KC advised that this will be an annual tradition now for the commemoration of Legends Day.

JB raised the situation in the concourse where a ladies toilet block has been changed to gents – this has eased congestion. TS confirmed this successful trial will be continuing.

In December 2013, Tim Fisher said he would form a ‘300 club’ for original shareholders - CJ emailed them about this last October and was chasing an update on it from MH. Lionel Bird, Jim Brown, Tim Fisher and Jonathan Strange have received an email today about it from MH.

PW expressed thanks on behalf of the SCG to the organising committee of the Jimmy Hill Celebration – notably JS, JB and MH. Tribute was also paid to Joe Elliott and Dave Long. The celebration was a real credit to everyone involved with the event – and a wonderful occasion for the football club and the city. PW proposed a letter be sent from the group to record our thanks. PA added that the cathedral’s contribution to the event was wonderful.  On a less positive note, DD added that some fans, including himself and JT, were originally turned away as the stewards claimed the cathedral was full. However, this was rectified and everybody outside was eventually admitted (including some without tickets). MG added that this event proved what a great city we have and the potential there is to become a great football club again. KH agreed and added that we have a great opportunity to promote the CCFC brand – we still own the heart of this city.

DC asked the club representatives about ticketing improvements – KC said things were progressing with this for next season. Further details to follow.

RT thanked TS and ticket office staff for their help in sorting a ticket out for his dad who is disabled. His dad liked what he saw and will be returning for another game.  RT also thanked MH for his continued help with the Youth Forum. He hopes to release a date soon for a forum in March with the club. 

SBR asked the club representatives if the Jimmy Hill flag was going to be displayed at every game. They confirmed it would be.

SBR raised the issues some fans have been experiencing with overzealous stewards. It is felt that some of them have become ‘bully boys’, are too aggressive and the relationship between them and the fans, particularly in “Singers’ Corner”, is not good.  TS suggested that SBR, DD and CJ meet with Chris O’Neill, the club’s safety officer, before Saturday’s game to discuss these issues. KC added that there is a match- day hotline number which is displayed on the scoreboard, is in the match day programme and details of which have been shared on Twitter.  The number is 07510 327887 – start your message with: 1 for drinking of alcohol, 2 for foul/abusive language, 3 for smoking, 4 for racism, 5 for aggressive behaviour (5 would also be valid for aggressive stewards), giving details of where you are sitting (block and seat number).  SBA requested a summary report from the hotline – TS asked for this to be raised at Saturday’s meeting with Chris O’Neill.

PR registered her thanks to the club for inviting volunteers and their families to the training ground. Also thanked the former players who came to the Family Zone on Legends Day and thanked the CCFPA for arranging it – this was very well received. 

SBA asked if season ticket prices were being discussed for next year as yet – TS replied that this process has just started but is in the very early stages.

SG thanked those who elected her as vice-chairman.

PA is currently working with four secondary schools around ‘Tickets for Schools’ for the Rochdale, Swindon, Millwall and Bradford City games. Could you please let her know if you have any contacts at secondary schools?  She is seeking a Sky Blue champion at every secondary school in the Coventry area. PA asked KC to confirm that he would be able to put a notice on the CCFC website about this.

CH suggested a pre-season match versus Fulham at the Ricoh in commemoration of Jimmy Hill, where money could be raised for Alzheimer’s Research. The club have actually already approached the Ricoh about this but have been told it is not possible logistically. The pitch will be ready just before the start of the season. Other suggestions included playing it at the end of the season or, if the club are successful in gaining promotion, during the first international weekend of next season.

MG attended the ‘Evening with Tony Mowbray’ last week which was an excellent event. He asked if the club were planning any more events like this. The only thing planned for the rest of this season is the end of season awards, but the club will look into the possibility of arranging something in the summer/pre-season.

MG noticed this morning that on the island by the Ricoh, on the A444, there were Wasps flags on display. The club have also spotted this and will approach the stadium with regards to some CCFC flags being put up as well.

RS feels an effort needs to be made by supporters to all come together and bury the hatchet of the past. The club are doing well and it is time to start supporting them again.

DB advised that the ball boys are now the responsibility of CCFC – please let him know if there are any issues. The ball boys come from the player development centre initially and there is a waiting list. However, if anybody knows somebody who would like to experience being a ball boy, please liaise with DB who will try to accommodate. PA to discuss with DB the possibility of linking this with Tickets for Schools.

MH thanked PR for the Family Zone, which is busier than ever, regardless of whether the attendances have gone down. He also thanked the FPA committee for a fantastic Legends Day.

KC highlighted the fact that almost 2000 fans were at the Ricoh last week to support our Under 18s in the FA Youth Cup against Arsenal. We ended up losing the game on penalties but it was a terrific display. It was announced today that our academy is in the top five in the entire Football League.

DB will deliver a presentation around Sky Blues in the Community at the next meeting.

Guest Speaker, Joy Seppala

JS welcomed Joy Seppala (JSE) to the SCG meeting and thanked her for specially travelling up from London to meet the group.

JSE started with a brief history of SISU and the club. SISU are a private equity firm who purchased the club in 2007. She acknowledged that it hasn’t turned out how she, or the supporters, would have hoped. In hindsight, the model at the time would only have been successful had the club been promoted to the Premier League. This model had to be adapted and the objective of the owners since 2012 has been to be smart and ensure the club has a sound financial footing and is self-sustainable to ensure that the club can achieve its ambitions on the pitch. The club is striving for financial viability and football/commercial viability. 

JSE did not originally envisage being part of the running of the football club. It has been the most extraordinary experience. There are so many elements/aspects with running a football club that many businesses do not have to contend with, notably how integral to the community it is.  Tough decisions along the way have had to be made. If they hadn’t, JSE insists, we wouldn’t be here today. The reward will hopefully come when we are promoted to the Championship at the end of this season.

We have a very exciting future, a fantastic manager and team and a great group of staff. We are growing as a club again.

Q&A session

PW: What is the situation with the legal battle against the Council and how long do you expect it to continue?  
It is a sad situation – we would never have elected to be part of a joint venture with the Council. It is probably one of the worst decisions ever made for the football club. It is very difficult to merge commercial business with a public entity. It is a deep and long process and difficult to draw a line under. We await the court of appeal decision but will definitely not be stopping this action. This club needs to have its independence. 

SBA: What is the desired outcome?  
The desired outcome is redemption for the football club, although unsure what that will actually entail.

SBR: What will happen with the money from the James Maddison sale?
Nobody wanted to sell James Maddison – he is a wonderful ambassador for the club and we hope that one day he will be a part of the club again. There is always the risk of players getting injured and to remain self-sufficient we need to make these decisions. 
We are going through the budget for next season and the audit is happening. We have two scenarios – one for League One, one for Championship. We need to be very clear about what our fixed costs are - there is little flexibility around these. Then there will be a pot, depending on what league we are in, that we can give to Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus to enable them to build a better squad. Part of the James Maddison money will stay in this pot to be used next season, as well as 60% of every £1 we make. We are in a different position to other football clubs such as, for instance, relegated clubs with their parachute payments, and those that own their stadiums. We didn’t get the same parachute payment when we were relegated that teams such as Wolves and Wigan received. We have ascertained that the 11,000 crowd break even figure, which we predicted at the start of the season, is inaccurate and it is actually more like 14,000, on a constant yield basis.

The academy is an expensive exercise but it is important to the community and its objective is twofold – 1. it produces players for the first team and 2. produces asset value for the club.  

JS: Did we receive offers from any other clubs for Maddison?
A number of big clubs were interested. We looked into the possibility of selling an option (on a right of first refusal) for James instead of an outright sale so we could keep him; however it seems the Football League rejected the idea. 

SBR: Why have you changed your mind about putting money into the club?
The club needs to be successful on its own without monies from SISU – nothing has changed in this respect. We do not want to fund operating losses, however investment is different. This leads to success and breeds confidence. 

PW/SBA: What is happening with the new stadium?
A new stadium is essential for the viability of the club in the long run. We do not want to be in League One and if we were promoted and were smart about what we did, we could be competitive in the Championship. It is working well on the playing side currently and we could be successful in the short-term without our own ground. However a stadium is critical – it de-risk’s the economics of the club. Also it is the club’s and supporters’ home. 
TS added that day to day we cannot make our own decisions in terms of the stadium, which is not ideal. We had to fight hard to enable the U18 cup game to be played at the Ricoh. 
The intention is to drive a new stadium forward as it de-risks our profile – but currently we are unable to give details or timescales. There were talks on a piece of land for a long time but nothing came of this, which was frustrating. Things will hopefully crystallise in the near term.

DD: If the club is self-sustainable, what do SISU actually do?
Firstly only SISU deal with the legal issues. Secondly on an operating basis as the club becomes more self-sufficient I am sure less direct SISU oversight will be required.

SBR: How much have SISU put into CCFC?
Over £60million. We have put some money in this season to ensure we become self-sufficient. It was very costly when we relieved Steven Pressley and company of their duties.

JBR: You alluded to the parachute payments of relegated teams to League One – if we get promoted, we will be competing with teams from the Premier League who have been relegated whoreceive much bigger parachute payments, as well as established Championship clubs with big budgets. How could we challenge?
This comes back to the issue of having our own stadium. Obviously this is not something for the short-term but we need to see what happens medium term. We will just need to do things smarter and better – like we have this season on the playing side. We need to be disciplined and creative. Bristol City have not really successfully transitioned into the Championship despite winning League One last season. We need to look at teams like Bournemouth or Swansea who have done well despite not being big clubs.  We need to re-energise our fan base as our biggest source of revenue is ticket sales. We need to look at these clubs to see how they have done it.

MG: If SISU have been smart since 2012, why weren’t they smart from 2007-2012? We were in the Championship then and could still be there.
We put a lot of faith in the wrong people, which was a tragedy. We now have a new level of aspiration.

DB: We have a successful academy, have produced real talent such as Gael, Callum, James – how far are we looking to invest in our academy as there are other clubs basing themselves in Coventry (Coventry Foxes from Leicester and West Brom Occults) who are picking up our kids and offering free training. There is a cost involved with our development centres, which feeds into our academy. We could potentially be missing out on kids who have no money, or parents with no desire to pay for them to play football, likely from underprivileged areas of the city. We can still rely on scouts but would be at risk of losing out. It is a resource but will need investment for it to continue to be as successful in the current climate. Would you be open to the idea of running and covering the costs of a satellite centre for six weeks?
The academy is a critical part of our object/focus as a club.  JSE is big on kids and wants to support anything that draws in the local community. This is something to seriously consider. 
DB also raised a concern about speculation around Alan Higgs replacing their 3G indoor pitch with a swimming pool, but KC confirmed that, under the current deal, they cannot kick the club out. It would be preferable to have our own 3G indoor pitch to help control our own destiny.

PW: Would you rule out a merger between CCFC and Wasps?
It is not going to happen.

JBR: As the club’s historian, and following the Jimmy Hill Celebration and Legends’ Day, I feel the club’s history is so important to our supporters. It is a sad state of affairs that the archives are in a small room at the Ricoh. Are you able to help do something about this?
Yes – would love to facilitate. Will liaise outside of this meeting.

JS: We sit here as representatives of the SCG – are there any aspirations we can present to Joy for the group?
MG – a higher profile; media coverage; ways to get the information out there.

JS: You have avoided getting involved in the media. When there have been attacks, there haven’t been attempts to speak out or defend yourself.
We really need to put out a positive stance and speak of the strengths of the club and the CCFC football family.

JS: In terms of budgets, is there a big difference between the ones you are planning for League One and the Championship?
The League One budget has been worked on and is not too dissimilar to this year’s budget. In the Championship we estimate our budget would be around £5-7million. Although the play-offs would be lucrative, we would prefer automatic promotion. 

SBR: Our turnover in terms of gate receipts is one of the highest in the league. Success wouldn’t be possible without this.
We are dependent on ticket sales as we don’t get revenue from elsewhere. We are also a big club for this league. If we got promoted we would hope to get gates of 20,000.  It was very disappointing to go from 17,000 to 12,000 after the recent bad run.

RS: A lot of us in the group are old enough to remember the Jimmy Hill era and are hoping Tony Mowbray is equally successful. Jimmy received a lot of support from the club. When there is a shot at a serious promotion push, would you consider extra financial help?
If we can push promotion to the Premier League, we would consider investment. Investment is different to funding losses.

SBA: Are you a Coventry City fan now? What is your medium to long-term vision?
Yes!  Promotion to the Championship, and ultimately to the Premier League.  I would love us to defy all odds and play in front of a packed stadium week in, week out, and for there to be a waiting list for season tickets. I want the club to be the heart and soul of the community. The academy is a very important, albeit expensive, and I am proud with the work being done there. KC added that we not only produce excellent footballers, but good professionals and human beings – we also ensure the families are included.

JBR: We have gone through a lot of managers at high costs. In terms of the money it cost when we sacked Pressley, are you more reluctant to offer long contracts?
The average length of a manager is ten months. Offering long contracts is unsound. We want Tony Mowbray to stay, regardless of how long he has on his contract.  And players don’t get long-term deals these days.

DC: We have a number of players whose contracts finish at the end of the season, i.e. Fleck. Are there any negotiations going on?
Yes.

JS concluded that it was inspiring to hear Joy’s passion and considered thoughts. Her attendance was part of an important sequence including the JH Celebration and also Legends Day (for which the CCFPA should be congratulated and thanked). He reiterated that the SCG are here to support the club and thanked Joy for her attendance.  Joy thanked the group.

Date of next meeting:  Wednesday 23 March 2016 6:30 pm – venue to be confirmed

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